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Leather craftsman brings a taste of South Africa to Perth in new shop

Daniel van Vuuren in his new shop, Spirit of Africa.

A journey that started as a leather craftsman apprentice in South Africa has taken Daniel van Vuuren to Perth and the opening of his own shop.

When a family friend looked for a safari outfitter apprentice, Daniel jumped at the chance to learn the trade.

Within four years he was running his own business, Daniel Paul Leather Crafts, selling his products to his former employer.

For 11 years he designed and created his own leather products, as well as training up new leather craftsmen.

Despite enjoying his life in South Africa, one traumatic event led to Daniel and his family looking for a new life elsewhere.

“In 2018, we had a bit of a harrowing experience in South Africa, a home invasion,” Daniel recalls.

“As much as I love the country, my wife and I had two small kids and we decided that was the time to look at moving.”

From South Africa to Scotland

As his mother is from London and family originally from Scotland, the UK was an option.

However, Daniel’s brother lived in the Netherlands, so he sold his leather working equipment and the family moved.

Daniel uses a wide variety of tools to create his leather crafts.

He spent a year working in a data centre, but neither he nor his wife were happy in their new home.

He says: “After doing leather work for so long I was going to see what else is out there.

“I wasn’t very happy to be honest.

“I love my craft and you end up spending so much time doing something that before you know it, that’s who you are and that’s what you do.”

Fortunately, his wife was offered a job in Edinburgh and the family moved again, this time in the middle of the pandemic.

From a small farm in Midlothian, Daniel decided to build up his business from scratch.

It was a slow process of finding equipment, redeveloping patterns and getting to know the market.

Daniel crafts a lot of leather bags.

He says: “When I started up I felt like I could breathe again.

“It was a bit like riding a bicycle in the beginning, but I realised that as an artistic and creative person, I have a need to create.

“In South Africa I had a few employees and a lot of machinery, but this was very much back to basics.”

Daniel Paul Leather Crafts shop in Perth

As the country went into lockdown, the leather craftsman spent the days working on his pattern and establishing an online business.

However, as the country opened up again, the family felt isolated on the small Midlothian farm.

While looking for a slightly bigger place, Daniel also found a retail space in Perth city centre which ended up being the deciding factor.

He says: “Every place in the world has its own beauty, but Perth reminds me a lot of my home city in South Africa.

“We’ve also noticed that Scottish people are a lot more like South African people than a lot of other people I have met.

“We absolutely love the city and we are really happy.”

Daniel and his family are happy to be settled in Perth.

In his new Spirit of Africa shop on St Paul’s Square he wants to bring a taste of African culture to Perth.

The leather craftsman specialises in vegetable tanned leather, a thick and durable material.

He could custom make practically anything, but focuses on belts, bags, carriers and bottle holders.

His shop also stocks products from Blairgowrie-based ElsCraft and Morrison’s Crafts and Gifts.

Growing a creative community

His new shop opened last week and has a small workshop space in the back for Daniel to work on his creations.

He hopes to become well-known in the community and be part of a local, creative hub.

In his Spirit of Africa shop, Daniel has a vintage leather sewing machine on display.

Daniel says: “People can be very creative when they’re given room to move and are supported by their local communities.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, but there’s still room for me to learn and grow every day.

“That’s why I like my craft, you’re never too old to pick up a new trick or improve yourself.”

As his first shop is quite small, he aims to find bigger premises in the future.

Daniel hopes that his next workshop will be a cooperative space where leather workers and other craftsmen can come together to create.

Eventually he would also like to take on some apprentices, like in South Africa.

He says: “I enjoy the process of creating my goods, but I also love imparting the skills to others.

“When you find a student who really loves the process and who is talented at it, who excels and exceeds what you could do at the time, it’s very rewarding.”

In Perth it is also possible to find a taste of Africa in the dishes of Add Africa.